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Matthew Karp is a historian of the U.S. Civil War era and its relationship to the nineteenth-century world. He received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011 and joined the Princeton faculty in 2013.
His first book, This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (Harvard, 2016) explores the ways that slavery shaped U.S. foreign relations before the Civil War. In the larger transatlantic struggle over the future of bondage, American slaveholders saw the United States as slavery's great champion, and harnessed the full power of the growing American state to defend it both at home and abroad. This Vast Southern Empire received the John H. Dunning Prize from the American Historical Association, the James Broussard Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, and the Stuart L. Bernath Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.
Karp is now at work on two books, both under contract with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. The first, Millions of Abolitionists: The Republican Party and the Political War on Slavery, considers the emergence of American antislavery mass politics. At the midpoint of the nineteenth century, the United States was the largest and wealthiest slave society in modern history, ruled by a powerful slaveholding class and its allies. Yet just ten years later, a new antislavery party had forged a political majority in the North and won state power in a national election, setting the stage for disunion, civil war, and the destruction of chattel slavery itself. Millions of Abolitionists examines the rise of the Republican Party from 1854 to 1861 as a political revolution without precedent or sequel in the history of the United States.
The second book, a meditation on the politics of U.S. history, explores the ways that narratives of the American experience both serve and shape different ideological ends — in the nineteenth century, the twentieth century, and today.
At Princeton, Karp teaches courses on the Civil War era, slavery and anti-slavery, the nineteenth-century United States, and political conflicts across the mid-nineteenth-century world.
“The People’s Revolution of 1856: Radical Populism, National Politics, and the Emergence of the Republican Party,” Journal of the Civil War Era, vol. 9 (December 2019), 524-545
“The Mass Politics of Antislavery,” Catalyst, vol. 3 (Summer 2019), 131-178
“History as End: 1619, 1776, and the Politics of the Past,” Harper’s, July 2021
“The Electoral Politics of a Second Gilded Age,” Jacobin, February 2021
“How Abraham Lincoln Fought the Supreme Court,” Jacobin, September 2020
"Lincoln: The Great Uncompromiser," The Nation, October 26, 2017
"The Enduring Struggle," The Nation, April 17, 2017
"In the 1850s, the future of American slavery seemed bright," Aeon, November 2016
"The New World Order," Boston Review, October 2016